Perfume : the Story of a Murder by Patrick Suskind
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
A literary historical/horror novel, Perfume rose to the top of bestseller lists around the world when it was released in 1985. It follows the exploits of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a wretched, misbegotten boy who rises from a life in the gutters of Paris on the near-magical abilities of his nose to separate scents from one another. Given the hardships to which he was exposed in childhood, it comes as no surprise when Grenouille enters adulthood lacking anything resembling normative morals and acts as he sees fit in order to satisfy his nose. The historical aspect of the novel is enthralling; Suskind grounds the action with concrete period detail, and he provides fascinating descriptions of the French perfume industry of the 18th century. The language of Perfume is often overwhelmingly rich, all in the service of trying to describe Grenouille's world of scents, which few readers could otherwise hope to comprehend.
This novel is a unique, extraordinary work, portraying a criminal mind without peer or restraint. On the one hand, Grenouille's actions increase in their daring and verve along lines familiar from criminology. On the other, he is a creature as evil and alien to most readers as any monster from the annals of science fiction. Perfume is enjoyable for its dense, florid style, and for the panache with which Suskind tells his clever story, but be warned that this is a dark, disturbing novel.